Dr. Jeff Scherrer's Story
complied by: Kim Thro
Priceless. This was the word that Jeff echoed again and again throughout the duration of my conversation with him. Priceless. This was the word that he continuously came back to, the word he felt described the services that CHADS provided to his daughter and family. Last November, Jeff’s daughter was diagnosed with depression and was put on an antidepressant. However, she did not respond positively to the medication. Her symptoms began to worsen, as periods of mania began to manifest themselves in between depressive episodes.
“Our family has a deep history of mental illness, especially with depression and anxiety disorder,” Jeff ruminated. “I always expected my children to have some problems.” When Jeff’s daughter told her parents, shortly after New Year’s, that she had been experiencing suicidal thoughts and felt that she couldn’t be trusted with her medication, Jeff searched determinedly for resources that would help his daughter combat her illness. “We were thinking of hospitalization,” Jeff divulged, since she did not have a therapist she saw regularly. A situation such as this, in which an individual experiencing a mental health crisis does not have a healthcare professional to turn to immediately, can be life-threatening. Fortunately, Jeff was aware of CHADS and the services it offers, contacted a staff member, and was able to bring his daughter into their clinic the same day.
The relief and gratitude was tangible in Jeff’s voice when he spoke next: “Having that service was priceless because it helped us control our own worry, and gave us a better picture of where she stood.” With the help of CHADS, Jeff was able to get his daughter immediate medical attention, rather than having to schedule an appointment for a later time and be plagued with worry as he waited. Eventually, his daughter’s mental illness developed into full-blown bipolar disorder and progressed past the resources that CHADS could provide. At this juncture, it was necessary that she be hospitalized, but CHADS was there for her and the family when they were in between psychologists and desperately needed somebody to assess her situation. “Without CHADS,” Jeff told me, “we would have been going many weeks without help,” which in his daughter’s situation could have been devastating.
Aside from providing Jeff’s daughter with help at a crucial point in her struggle with bipolar disorder, there are other resources that CHADS has been able to provide that have assisted along the way. Perhaps the most valuable of these, at least to Jeff’s daughter, was CHADS’ implementation of a support group in her school district. Jeff emphasized that CHADS did this especially well and that it was something that helped his daughter cope, and gave her something to look forward to. These support groups, offered in multiple Saint Louis area school districts and supervised by school counseling staff, allow kids who are experiencing mental health problems to meet each other. “When you’re depressed you tend to socially isolate,” Jeff explained. “I think that having that support group, whether it’s topic-specific or a way to get together and talk about anything, gives them a chance to interact with people they might otherwise be avoiding.” Jeff’s own daughter had trouble finding the motivation to return to school after her hospitalizations, yet she never wanted to miss out on participating in her support group. Jeff felt that this demonstrated what a resource CHADS truly is and how it impacted both his daughter and other students struggling with their mental health by giving them a community of peers who could understand what they’re going through.
Something else that Jeff mentioned several times throughout our conversation was how he felt that CHADS’ efforts to reduce the stigma of mental illness were of incredible importance. I asked him what it was that he wished people knew about mental illness. His response was both concise and poignant: “Primarily, it’s a biological disease that needs to be treated, and if it isn’t, it’ll get worse. It does not just go away on its own.” These words echo the collective of individuals who fight for destigmatization. There’s no such thing as thinking away mental illness, and trying to ignore it or pretend it doesn’t exist does nothing to heal it. Most importantly, it is completely okay to not be okay. Seek out somebody that you feel comfortable confiding in and tell them how you’re feeling. Jeff’s parting words were these: “Hopefully, they (teenagers) can share what’s going on with their parents, and if they’re not comfortable with them, to definitely not be quiet. Talk to friends, school teachers, CHADS, any hotlines. Being quiet is the worst thing to do.” Taking that first step, as frightening as it can be, and finding somebody, whether it’s family, friends, or doctors, is a step in the right direction. Being open to this, allows you to continue down the path to recovery, and in Jeff’s words, “Nothing could possibly be more priceless.”